story by Tsuneo Takano; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Jake Forbes
published by Viz; $7.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Ral and company are continuing their quest to save humanity from Lady Bira and her Shadow army. Volume two opens with Kafka, a knight of Castle Stola, joining Ral’s entourage. They head to the city of Lulira, whose library is said to possess great knowledge about the Shadows. In Lulira, they learn about Ganette. Like Ral and Kafka, he is partnered with one of the most powerful Shadow beings. He also seeks to destroy Lady Bira. They leave Lulira in hopes of beating Ganette to Lady Bira’s castle.
Volume three opens with Ral arriving on the Kasabia continent, where Lady Bira’s castle is. It’s also where her two great prisons are. Ral meets Ganette and they reluctantly join forces. They head off to liberate the men in the male prison in hopes of building an army from prisoners to lay siege to the women’s prison and Lady Bira’s castle.
What a difference a year makes. Looking back at my review of volume 1, I’m amazed at the enthusiasm and optimism I had for the series. Unfortunately, the next two volumes didn’t live up to my expectations.
What impressed me most about volume 1 was the innovative world that Takano and Obata created for the series. It was an interesting blend of Western and Eastern religious and cultural ideas. However, it appears they used up their stockpile of originality on world building and had nothing inventive left for the plot. This is simply another Shonen Jump fight manga in fantasy trappings. It’s a paint-by-number storyline with flashes of missed potential.
There are still some positive aspects to these volumes. First, the breast obsession slowly dies out over the course of these two books. I’ve been known to beat a joke into the ground, call Anita Blake to resurrect its corpse, and then beat it into the ground again. So when I say the joke was getting old, that means something. The Barbie doll nudity that went along with this feature of the story dissipates at the same rate. Don’t misunderstand me, volume three still has the occasional boob joke and cleavage shot, but thankfully, they are now rare.
I like Ral. I would have liked to see more character development. However, the plot moves so fast that there isn’t any time or space for that. Takano does a wonderful job conveying Ral’s naivete without making him look stupid. Ral’s boyishness allows him to be brutally honest in situations where tact and diplomacy are the norm. He still exudes a natural charisma that draws people to him.
Also, I’m still a fan of Lady Bira. I love a villainess who is unadulterated evil. She is the femme fatale writ large. As I’ve said before, I enjoy a comic where the lines between good guys and bad guys are clearly drawn.
Obata is one of my favorite comic artists. There really isn’t anything that he doesn’t do perfectly. The line work, the lavish details, the tone use, page layout, etc. are all among the best in comics of any format or nationality. He shows originality in the monster designs. The battle scenes are exciting and fun to read. The art is the one aspect of these books that I enjoyed without reservation.
These two volumes of Ral Omega Grad were a huge disappointment. At times, I even found myself bored. Takano built a incredible foundation in book one, but he seems to have had only enough material left for a lean-to house. I regret that I have to remove my recommendation from this manga. I still have hope for Takano and will wait to see what his next series offers.